CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Review by Old Rooster
March 2003

"'Death Hath a Thousand Doors to Let out Life.' Let's Find Which One Our Victim Took." —Gil Grissom, quoting John Webster

Within the last year, we have had the experience of two detective/adventure games based on popular T.V. series—first Law & Order: Dead on the Money, and now CSI. As with Law & Order, you not only join video characters based on the episodes' stars, but also have scripting, acting and the setting based on the show. As most of you realize, I'm sure, the CSI series, and this game, deal with fictional experiences of criminalists in the Las Vegas police force. Five cases are presented for solution, with you, the gamer, playing alongside different members of the T.V. team (acted by them). The cases include:

  • "Inn and Out"—Largely a tutorial; playing alongside Grissom as your teacher to solve a brutal hotel murder;
  • "Light My Fire"—Helping Sara solve a mysterious fire in a den;
  • "Garvey's Beat"—You and Nick try to resolve a very nasty cop killing;
  • "More Fun than a Barrel of Monkeys"—Warrick needs your help understanding a corpse in a barrel;
  • "(Blank)'s Swan Song"—Work with Catherine on the most pressing case of all.

A good deal of care will be taken in this review not to reveal anything in the way of spoilers or even the detailed nature of the cases. We'll mostly talk about and evaluate the process and mechanics of the game.

The game comes with three CDs and a helpful but largely unnecessary (as we'll later discover) manual. Installation is smooth, requiring 350 MB for minimal install and 1,500 MB for full. QuickTime 6.0 is needed, and it is on the CD if not already on your system. The game ran flawlessly, with one minor exception—occasional sound stuttering. However, this was alleviated by performing a full install. Graphic and sound options are available, as are subtitles. Clearly a good deal of pretesting and care have gone into this production, and the developers/producers are to be commended.

CSI is rated "M" for mature, and appropriately so. If you won't let your child watch the T.V. show, then it's also not fitting for her/him to play the game.

"The Devil's in the Details, and it Looks like We've Implicated the Devil" —Grissom

CSI is about forensics and investigative process more than outcome and prosecution. Your goal is to find and piece together the mosaic of clues and details to finally secure a suspect with the means, motive and opportunity to commit the crime. What might appear to be a potentially overwhelming prospect is made easy and, in many ways, too easy by one of the best and most efficient interfaces I've ever seen in an adventure game. I'm calling it a "Catch 22 Interface."

After a beautifully voiced and guided initial tutorial (no manual needed), you are plopped at the first crime scene with Grissom. He's his typical low-key and sardonic self, making such comments as, "It's just a hair, right? A tiny thing, and yet so big." It's evident throughout the game that one of the CSI T.V. scriptwriters has also contributed to this effort. You are able to move in a 360-degree rotation, on a horizontal plane only, and essentially in a stationary mode, from a first-person point of view. In other words, you can't wander within a scene, but only between locations. A mouse-driven smart cursor is used (nothing but the mouse is needed for the game), with the item of interest lighting green. Interestingly, hotspots are quite large, and minute pixel-hunting is unnecessary. Occasionally, and I think this is an unintended glitch, an item you've already picked up will be gone, but the area will still "light up" green.

The graphics are satisfactory but not stunning, or even very contemporary. Resolution appears to be 800×600. Scenes are fairly static, with the occasional birds (outdoors). Background sounds are more nicely done, with ringing phones, traffic, sirens, office chatter, etc. helping to create greater ambiance. Voice acting, as mentioned, is stellar—with the Jim Brass, Warrick Brown and Catherine Willows characters being the most memorable. It does appear that every one of the eight colleagues you'll meet is played by the T.V. actor/actress. The scripting is wonderful, with loads of crisp, often humorous comments to you, the player, as well as character to character. For example, at one point Greg comments to Sara: "I give, give, give ... you take, take, take." Fans of the show, especially, will enjoy exchanges like these.

In addition to the five investigators you'll meet while solving your cases, you'll also have the support of Greg in the lab ("Don't be afraid of the microscope; it's your friend!"), Captain Brass, to help with background inquiries, warrants and suspect questioning ("After all that lying, don't you feel better now?"), and Doc Robbins, the medical examiner ("It's a basal skull fracture combined with conjunctival hemorrhaging"). In that regard, as with a highlight of the show, vivid FMV-type reconstructions become available (how, in grisly detail, the bullet enters the chest, etc.), and can be replayed if you don't feel like sleeping at night!

Catch 22 Interface?

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. On the face of it, this game could be very complicated. However, an interface has been created that is one of the best I've seen, and yet inadvertently contributes to one of the two most serious drawbacks in CSI—game length.

At the bottom of your screen, you have the major selections of "Locations," "Tools," and "Case File." Location allows you to instantly transport from crime scene to related residences/offices, to your arena—the lab, morgue, and Brass. The kind of wandering required by most adventure titles (such as The Watchmaker) is not at all present. And, as mentioned, actual scene analysis is in a stationary mode, with only limited scanning of the area—sometimes with closeups.

Contributing to the efficient design is a twofold selection of tools. Seven are designed for collection, ranging from cotton swabs to adhesive lifting tape. And another seven are intended for detection, ranging from an UV light to Ninhydrin.

When an item is "picked up" through your cursor, it's automatically included in your inventory. Initially, it may have no tag, then a grey tag indicating some information has been found related to it, and finally a yellow tag indicating you've run all the tests you can run or discovered all there is to discover. Your case file—suspects—also is updated automatically, with your goal being to find the classic "means, motive and opportunity" for one of them, sufficient to lead to Brass issuing an arrest warrant and Grissom congratulating you! Saving of your game is also automatically done, with one save slot being overwritten when you exit.

"Can You Help Me with a Piece of Evidence?" —You, to Any of Your Associates

I doubt you'll see any walkthroughs created for CSI. There is no difficulty setting, largely because the game not only has a built-in help system (which takes points away from your rating), but also because it's just plain easy—in fact, too easy. Of course we "experienced players" (cough, cough) want to avoid such inquiries as the above, but even so, unsolicited hints are given along the way when an item is discovered. "Maybe it would be good to check this out with Greg," etc. Even without that, your choices of investigation are limited. You have, perhaps, three suspects with whom you can instantly visit and find if conversational trees are exhausted. So, too, with Doc and Brass (who will sometimes say, "Bring me more"). In the lab, you can show an item to Greg, who will comment if he can, and/or check it out with a computer inquiry (fingerprints) or a microscope for matching (hairs, for example). And that's about it. The movement throughout the cases is linear, with little or no backtracking required, and the solutions essentially handed to you, or at least leading you by the nose. Your deductive skills can make your task more efficient, but trial and error alone, coupled with instant location access, can quickly speed you through this game—in my case, seven hours for all five cases, and that's with taking notes and pics for this review!

"Let's Ask the Magic Screen" —Captain Brass

The instant computer responses Brass generates with your inquiries are mirrored by the play of the game itself. CSI plays more like a supplement to the T.V. series than it does a full-fledged adventure game. As a supplement, it's enjoyable, involving, compelling and very well done—giving you experiences with inquiries, tools and CSI colleagues. As a game, I'm afraid it's quite limited. With its "Catch 22" efficient interface and very linear path, it's too easy and too short. One can replay to raise a score (my five-game average was 83), but there's little motivation to do that, other than to open up a few bonus FMV sequences. It's not much fun when you know the clues, evidence and culprit in advance.

Therefore, my recommendation to you, dear reader, is mixed. If you're a fan of the show, like me, this may be a "required purchase" for you. If you are more of an adventurer, looking for complexity and character-related puzzles, as well as decent length (more than seven hours), then CSI will likely disappoint. As Grissom says, "That's the end of your training; the rest is up to you!"

What I Liked About CSI

  • The stories, as narratives, are CSI-ish, well-written and interesting.
  • Voice acting is superb and done by original cast members.
  • The interface is extremely efficient.

What Disappointed Me About CSI

  • The graphics are dated and static.
  • There's very limited movement within a scene.
  • It's much too linear and easy.
  • It's much too short—an estimated five to seven hours. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: 369 Interactive
Publisher: UbiSoft
Release Date: March 2003

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
PII 300
128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended for XP)
8 MB graphic card
350 MB free hard disk space

Where to Find It

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